I dreamt that I was young and hale again,
It was the mansion in my native land;
I ran along the pathway to the vale,
Ran with Ottilia, racing hand in hand.
How neatly formed, her tiny figure looks!
Those sweet green eyes have such a roguish play,
And on those little feet she stands so firm,
A type of grace and strength’s united sway.
Her voice’s music is so sweet and true
You almost fancy through her heart to see;
And all she says is clever, full of sense;
Her ruddy lips a budding rose might be!
It is not sensuous longing that I feel;
I’m not in love; my senses calm remain,
And yet her manners have a wondrous charm,
And as I kiss her hand I thrill with pain.
Methinks at last I plunked a lily fair,
And gave it to her, saying: from my heart
Accept my troth, Ottilia, be my own,
That I may be as gentle as thou art.
The answer that she gave I ne’er shall know
For I awake to find myself in tears, —
That I am ill and lying on my bed,
Forlorn as I have been these many years.
I came from the house of my mistress bright
And wandered half crazed thro’ the grim midnight;
And as thro’ the churchyard my way I took,
The still graves gave me a solemn look.
From the Minstrel’s grave some bright glance sped,
Twas a flickering ray that the wan moon shed;
And “Brother, I’m coming” was whispered low,
While a pale form rose from the grave below.
‘Twas the Minstrel himself from the grave who crept,
And on to the top of the grave-stone leapt;
With rapid hand he strikes the strings,
And in voice both hollow and harsh he sings:
“Oh! sad and dull, my lute-string, say,
Know ye still the theme that used to sway
The life-blood and enthral it?
Heaven’s bliss — the Angels call it so;
Hell’s pain, it is called by the fiends below,
But Love is what men call it.”
And scarce had the sound of the last word died
When, all around, the graves gaped wide;
And phantoms rose and swayed about
The Minstrel, raising in chorus the shout:
“Love, oh Love, it was thy might
Brought us to this doleful plight,
Closed our lips and sealed our sight,
Wherefore call’st thou in the night?”
And the clamour arises, confused and confounding,
With croaking and creaking, rebound, resounding:
Round the Minstrel circle the madden hordes,
And the Minstrel wildly smites the chords.
“Mad my masters, well, ’tis well
Welcome are ye;
Nought could bar ye
When ye heard my magic spell.
Though from year to year we be
Mouse-still in our coffins, we
Make today a day of glee!
But are we alone? Just see!
We were asses all when living,
Our existence madly giving
To a mad love’s raging fires.
Pastime surely will not fail,
If each spirit tells the tale
Of what brought him from above,
Of his woes
And his throes
In the frenzied chase of Love.”
Then light as the breeze there hopped forth soon
The leanest of phantoms, and hummed this tune:
“A tailor’s ‘prentice steady
With needle and with shears;
I grew expert and ready!
With needle and with shears;
“When my master’s daughter lured me
With needle and with shears;
And through my bosom skewered me
With needle and with shears!”
Then the chorus of spirits laughed long and loud,
And a second stalked solemnly out of the crowd.
“Brigands such as Rinaldini,
Robin Hood and Orlandini,
But Karl Moor the most by far,
These I took for exemplar!
“And I plunged — pray let me show it —
Into Love, in mode heroic,
And a female form divine
Jostled thro’ this brain of mine.
“And my heart and hopes were maddened,
And my love being almost maddened,
I at last dipped fingers rash
In my worthy neighbour’s cash.
“Then some high police curmudgeon
Chose to take the thing in dungeon,
That I dried the tears of grief
With my neighbour’s handkerchief.
“And in good policeman fashion
Marched me off without compassion;
So the gaol stupendous pressed
Me to its maternal breast.
“Thoughts of her! aye, picking oakum
Did voluptuously provoke ’em!
Till Rinaldo came one day
And bore my soul with him away.”
Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a well be-rouged dandy stepped from the crowd.
“I was king of the boards and enchanted
The town in the true lover’s part;
I bellowed, ‘Ye gods,’ and I ranted,
I breathed forth my Aha, from my heart.
“In Romeo I chiefly attracted:
Each Juliette an angel I thought;
Through the part so the life I enacted,
She ne’er understood what I sought.
“When once in the fifth act despairing
‘O my Saint! O my Juliet!’ I cried;
My bodkin relentlessly baring,
I stuck it too deep in my side.”
Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a fourth appeared in a snow-white shroud.
“From his lofty chair the Professor was prosing,
Was prosing while I took a nap serene;
But a thousand times rather than napping or dozing,
By his dear little daughter would I have been.
“From her window she gave me sweet nods as I passed by
My flower of flower, my life’s sole light!
But my flower of flower was plucked at the last by
A Philistine huckster, a wealthy wight.
“Then I cursed all women and scoundrels wealthy,
And some devil’s drug with my wine did blend;
And I pledged King Death in a goblet stealthy.”
He cried, “On my faith, Old Death’s a friend!”
Then all the spirits laughed long and loud;
With a rope round his neck came a fifth from the crowd.
“He reveled and swaggered, the Count o’er his wine,
With his diamonds rare and his daughter divine;
What care I, Sir Count, for your jewels so fine?
Tis your fair little daughter whom I would make mine.
“They both of them lay under bolt, lock and key,
And the Count a whole army of henchmen had he.
What cared I for henchmen, for belt, lock and key?
The rungs of a ladder I mounted with glee.
“So gaily I climbed to my darling’s window,
When savagest swearing is heard from below.
‘Stop, stop, my fine fellow, let me have my share,
I’ve also a fancy for diamonds rare.’
“‘Twas the Count who thus jeered me, and at me he flew,
And shouting, his myrmidons hustled me, too.
‘To hell with your rabble! No thief have you here,
And all I would steal is my own little dear!
“Entreaties availed not, no counsel could aid
In a moment were cords and a gibbet arrayed;
When next the sun came how astonished was he,
To discover me there on the bright gallows-tree!”
Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
With his head in his hand came a sixth from the crowd.
“Love drove me to the poacher’s trade;
Thro’ forest, gun in hand, I strayed;
In the high trees the raves scoff,
And croak at me: ‘Heads off! Heads off!’
“Oh, could I track some pretty dove,
Home would I bear it to my Love.
Thro’ bush and briar, as thus I thought,
My sportman’s eye the quarry sought.
“What cooing’s that? What billing’s there?
Two tender turtles, I declare.
I crept up close and cocked my gun,
And lo! my own sweetheart was one!
“My dove, my bride, it was in sooth,
Embracing her a stranger youth.
Old marksman, see thy aim be good!
There lay the stranger in his blood.
“Ere long the headsman’s train marched thro’
The gloomy wood, and I marched too,
Chief actor — while the ravens scoff
And croak on high: ‘Heads off! heads off!'”
Then the spirits in merry chorus shout,
And then the Minstrel himself steps out.
And the maniac laughter rang doubly loud,
And circled about him the death-pale crowd;
When the church tower boomed forth One and then
With a shriek they plunged in the graves again.
I lay and slept; slept peacefully,
All pain and care dispelled;
In dreams a vision came to me
The fairest e’er beheld.
Pale as white marble to the view,
A maid of mystery rare,
With pearl-like eyes all brimmed with dew,
And strangely waving hair.
And soft and softly drawing sigh
The maid so marble pale,
She came upon my heart to lie
The maid so marble pale.
Ah! how my breast doth burn and start
And leap with joy and woe;
Nor leaps, nor starts the maiden’s heart,
That heart as cold as snow.
“My heart doth neither bear, nor move,
As very ice ’tis cold;
And yet I know the bliss of love,
Its passion uncontrolled!
“On lip and cheek there blooms no red,
Nor through my heart streams blood;
Yet strive not with such shuddering dread,
For thee I’m meek and good.”
And wilder still she clasped me round,
Till terror made me quail;
When the cock crowed — without a sound
Fled the maid, marble pale.
Yes, I have summoned many
Pale corpses by spells of might,
And now there is not any
Will slink back into the night.
The terror and horror drove from me
The master’s o’erpowering spell;
And so my own spectres o’ercome me,
And drag me back to hell.
Urge me not, ye swart friends, I implore ye!
Hurl me not to the darkness below;
There are many delights yet ‘fore me
In the sheen of our earth’s rosy glow.
For ever must I be straining
After one fair flower near;
What were my whole life’s meaning
If I did not love thee, dear?
Might I only clasp and press her
To my flowing heart once again,
On her cheeks, on her mouth to kiss her
Once only with rapturous pain!
Might I only hear one tender
Word from her lips at that hour,
O spirits, I would surrender
Myself to your gloomy power!
The spirits heard me, bending
Their heads as an awful sign.
Fair sweetheart — to them am I wending;
Dost thou love me — fair sweetheart mine!
In the midst of this space
swept a burning ball,
where stood a man
giant in stature and grand in pride,
who played the violin.
Was this sphere of Light the sun?
I know not.
But in the features of the man I recognized Paganini,
ideally beautified, celestially refined,
atoned for divinely, and smiling.
This body was fresh and fair in vigorous manliness;
a light-blue garment
was about his now far nobler limbs,
the black hair flowed in shining locks on his shoulders,
as he stood there, firm and confidently,
like the sublime statue of a god.
He played the violin,
as if all creation obeyed his tones.
He was the man-planet round whom the universe moved,
ringing with measured joy and in a happy rhythm.
Were those great lights which swept so calmly gleaming
round him stars of heaven?
Were those sweet-sounding harmonies
the music of the spheres,
of which poets and seers have told so much?
Sometimes when with effort I looked forth
and far into the dim distance,
I seemed to see white waving garments,
in which colossal pilgrims wandered in disguise,
with staves in their hands;
The gold heads of their staves were those same great lights
which I had taken for stars.
These pilgrims went in a vast procession
around the great player;
the heads of their staves flashed reflective light
from the tones of his violin;
and the chorals which rang from their lips,
and which I had taken for the
noise of spheres, were really only the
rebounding echoes of his violin.
A nameless passion dwelt in these sounds
like mysterious whispering on water,
or the tones of hunters’ horns by moonlight.
And then burst forth unbridled rejoicing,
as though a thousand bards were sweeping the strings
and raising their voices
in a song of victory.
That was the music which no ear has heard.
Only the heart can dream it
when by Night
it rests against the heart of the beloved.
The Romantic School … Part Four
This writer, Johann Heinrich Voss, is altogether unknown in France, and yet there are few to whom the German people are more indebted for their intellectual development. After Lessing, he is probably the greatest citizen in German literature. He certainly was a great man, and deserves more than a mere passing mention.
The biography of this man is that of nearly all German authors of the old school. He was the son of poor parents, and was born at Mecklenberg in 1751. He studied theology, but did not pursue it as a career. When, however, he became acquainted with poetry and Greek, he devoted himself zealously to both. In order not to starve he took to teaching, and became schoolmaster at Otterndorf, in Hadeln. He translated the ancients, and lived to the age of seventy-five, poor, frugal, and industrious. He enjoyed an excellent reputation among the poets of the old school, but the poets of the new romantic school were continually plucking at his laurels, and they scoffed not a little at the honest, old-fashioned Voss, who, however, went on in his straight-forward way, picturing the life on the lower Elbe, sometimes even writing in the Platt-Deutsch dialect.
He selected no medieval knights or madonnas as the heroes and heroines of his works, but chose for his theme the life of a simple Protestant parson and his virtuous family. Voss was so thoroughly wholesome, so bourgeois, so natural; while they, the new troubadours, were so morbid and somnambulistic, so high-flown and aristocratic, and altogether so unnatural. To Frederic Schlegel, the intoxicated poet of the dissolute, romantic Lucinde, the staid and sober Voss, with his “chaste Louise” and his “aged and venerable parson of Grunau,” must have been very obnoxious. August Wilhelm Schlegel, who never was so sincere as his brother in his glorification of profligacy and of Catholicism, harmonised much better with old Voss, and between the two there existed only the rivalry of translators, a rivalry which has been very beneficial for German literature.
Even before the rise of the new school, Voss had translated Homer; now, with an unprecedented industry, he translated the other heathen poets of antiquity, while August Wilhelm Schlegel translated the Christian poets of the romantic-Catholic period. Secret polemical motives inspired them both. Voss aimed to advance classic poetry and modes of thought through his translations, while A. W. Schlegel sought, through good translations, to make the Christian-romantic poets accessible to the public for imitation and culture. In sooth, this antagonism manifested itself even in the forms of speech used by the two translators.
While Schlegel became ever more fastidious and finical in his style, Voss grew more brusque and rugged. The language in the latter’s later translations is as rough as a file, and at times almost unpronounceable. If one is liable to slip on the smooth, highly-polished, mahogany-like surface of Schlegel’s poems, there is equal danger of stumbling over Voss’s versified blocks of granite. In a spirit of rivalry, Voss finally attempted a translation of Shakespeare, a work which Schlegel had accomplished so successfully in his earlier years. In this undertaking Voss fared very badly, and his publisher still worse; the translation was a total failure.
If Schlegel’s translation, perhaps, reads too smoothly; if his verses sometimes give the impression of whipped cream, and leave the reader in doubt whether it is to be eaten or be drunk;—Voss’s, on the other hand, is as hard as stone, and reading his verses aloud makes one fear a dislocation of the jaw-bone. But that which especially distinguished Voss was the energy with which he battled against all difficulties; he not only wrestled with the German language, but also with that aristocratic Jesuitic monster, which at that period raised its unsightly head from amidst the dark forest depths of German literature: and Voss dealt the monster a telling blow.
Herr Wolfgang Menzel, a German author, who is known as one of the bitterest opponents of Voss, dubs him “a Saxon boor.” Notwithstanding the unfriendly sense in which this epithet is applied, it is nevertheless very fitting. In truth, Voss is “a Saxon boor,” just as Luther was one: he lacks all that is chivalrous, courteous, and gracious; he was every inch one of that rude, rough, sturdy race, to whom Christianity could be preached only by fire and sword, and who only submitted to that religion after losing three battles, but who in their customs and ways still retain much of the old Norse pagan doggedness, and in their material and intellectual combats show themselves as valiant and as stubborn as their ancient gods.
When I contemplate Johann Heinrich Voss in his polemics and in his whole manner, I seem to see before me the ancient one-eyed Odin himself, who has left Asgard and has become a school-teacher in the province of Hadeln, and there teaches Latin declination and the Christian catechism to the little flaxen-haired Holsteiners; in his leisure hours he translates the Greek poets into German, and borrows from Thor his great hammer to beat the verses into shape; but after a while, becoming tired of the tedious work, he takes the hammer and cracks poor Fritz Stolberg on the head.
That was a famous affair. Frederick, Count of Stolberg, was a poet of the old school, and was remarkably popular in Germany, not, perhaps, so much on account of his poetic talents as for his title of count, which at that time counted for more in German literature than it does now. Fritz Stolberg, however, was a liberal man and had a noble heart, and he was a friend of those less patrician youths, who in Göttingen were seeking to found a poetic school. I recommend French literary men to read the preface to the poems of Holty, in which Johann Heinrich Voss describes the idyllic life of the band of poets of which he and Fritz Stolberg were members.
Time passed, and these two only were left of all that galaxy of youthful poets. When Fritz Stolberg, with great eclat, joined the Catholic Church, abjuring reason and the love of freedom, becoming a promoter of intellectual darkness, and by his aristocratic example drawing many weaklings after him—then Johann Heinrich Voss, the venerable man of three-score and ten, publicly entered the lists against the friend of his youth, and wrote the little book, Wie Ward Fritz Stolberg ein Unfreier?
In it he analysed Stolberg’s whole life, and showed how the aristocratic tendency in the nature of his old comrade had always existed, and that after the events of the French Revolution that tendency had steadily become more pronounced; that Stolberg had secretly joined an association of the nobility, which had for its purpose to counteract the French ideas of liberty; that these nobles entered into a league with the Jesuits; that they sought, through the re-establishment of Catholicism, to advance also the interests of the nobility: he exposed in general the ways and means by which the reactionists were seeking to bring about the restoration of the Christian-Catholic-feudal middle ages, and the destruction of Protestant intellectual freedom and the political rights of the commonalty.
Once, ere the era of revolutions, good fellowship existed between German democracy and German aristocracy; the former hoped for nothing, the latter feared nothing; but now as grey-beards, they faced each other, and fought a duel for life or death.
That portion of the German public which did not comprehend the significance and terrible necessity of this struggle blamed poor Voss for the ruthless revelation of confidential relations and private affairs, which, however, taken as a whole, conclusively proved the correctness of his charges. Then certain so-called aesthetic souls, far too exalted and refined for such petty gossip, raised an outcry, and accused poor Voss of being a scandal-monger.
Other good citizens, who feared that the curtain might be drawn from them, and their own miserable shortcomings be exposed, waxed indignant over the violation of the established rules of literary polemics, which strictly forbid all personalities and disclosures of private affairs. It so happened that Fritz Stolberg died soon after, and his death was attributed to grief; and when, immediately after his death, his Liebesbechlein was published, in which he assumes the true Jesuitic tone, and speaks of his poor deluded friend in terms of pious Christian forgiveness—then the tears of German compassion fell thick and fast, and the German Michel assumed his most lugubrious expression, and all this flood of sentimentality was turned into wrath against poor Voss; and most of the abuse heaped upon him came from the very ones for whose intellectual and material welfare he had battled.
When one gets soundly thrashed in Germany one can always count on the pity and tears of the multitude. In this respect the Germans resemble those old crones who never miss an opportunity of witnessing an execution, and who eagerly press to the front of the curious spectators, setting up a bitter lamentation at sight of the poor wretch, and even taking his part. The snivelling old women who attend literary executions, and put on such grief-stricken airs, would nevertheless be very much disappointed if the poor sinner was suddenly to receive a pardon, and they be sent trudging homeward without beholding the anticipated flogging. Their worst fury would then be directed against the one who had balked their expectation.
Meanwhile Voss’s polemical writings exerted a powerful influence upon the masses, and turned the current of public opinion against that predilection for medievalism which had been all the fashion. His writings aroused Germany; many declared for Voss personally; a greater portion supported his cause alone. The controversy waxed fiercer and fiercer; attacks and rejoinders followed in quick succession, and the last days of the old man were embittered by these quarrels.
He had to deal with the most dangerous opponents, the priesthood, who attacked him under the most-varied guises. Not only the Crypto-Catholic, but also the Pietists, the Quietists, the Lutheran Mystics; in brief, all the supernaturalistic sects of the Protestant church, no matter how decidedly they differed from one another in their creeds, yet they all agreed in their great hatred of Johann Heinrich Voss, the rationalist. This name is in Germany applied to those who hold that the claims of reason should not be put aside in matters of religion, in opposition to the supernaturalists, who to a greater or less degree discard reason in religion. The latter, in their furious hate of the poor rationalists, resemble the inmates of a lunatic asylum, who, although they will not believe in each other’s hallucinations, yet in a measure tolerate one another. But with all the fiercer hate do they turn against the man whom they consider their common enemy, who is no other than the physician who seeks to restore their reason.
To be continued…
Link to Part Five
Excerpt, “The Prose Writings of Heinrich Heine: Edited, with an Introduction, by Havelock Ellis.” Walter Scott, London: 23 Warwick Lane, Paternoster Row: 1887.
The Baron de la Motte-Fouqué was formerly a major in the Prussian military service, and is one of the most conspicuous of those poet-heroes, or hero-poets, whose lyre and sword won renown during the so-called war of liberation.
His laurels are of the genuine kind. He is a true poet, and the inspiration of poetry is on his brow. Few authors receive such universal homage as did our good Fouqué. Now his readers consist only of the patrons of the circulating libraries. But that public is still large enough, and Fouqué may boast that he was the only one of the romantic school who was also received with favour by the lower classes. At the time when at the aesthetic tea-gatherings in Berlin it was the fashion to sneer at the fallen knight, in a little Hartz village I became acquainted with a lovely maiden, who spoke of Fouqué with a charming enthusiasm, and blushingly confessed that she would gladly give a year of her life if she might but once kiss the author of “Undine”—and this maiden had the prettiest lips that I have ever seen.
“Undine” is indeed a charming poem. This poem is itself a kiss! The genius of poetry kissed the sleeping spring, and as it opened its laughing eyes all the roses exhaled their sweetest perfumes, and all the nightingales sang; and the fragrance of the roses and the songs of the nightingales, all this did our good Fouqué clothe in words, and called it “Undine.”
I know not if this novel has been translated into French. It is the story of a lovely water-fairy who has no soul, and who only acquires one by falling in love with an earthly knight. But, alas! with this soul she also learns human sorrows. Her knightly spouse becomes faithless, and she kisses him dead. For in this book death also is only a kiss.
This “Undine” may be regarded as the muse of Fouqué’s poetry. Although she is indescribably beautiful, although she suffers as we do, and earthly sorrows weigh full heavily upon her, she is yet no real human being. But our age turns away from all fairy-pictures, no matter how beautiful. It demands the figures of actual life; and least of all will it tolerate water-fays who fall in love with noble knights. This reactionary tendency, this continual praise of the nobility, this incessant glorification of the feudal system, this everlasting knight-errantry balderdash, became at length distasteful to the educated portion of the German middle classes, and they turned their backs on the minstrel who sang so out of time. In fact, this everlasting sing-song of armours, battle-steeds, high-born maidens, honest guild-masters, dwarfs, squires, castles, chapels, minnesingers, faith, and whatever else that rubbish of the middle ages may be called, wearied us; and as the ingenuous hidalgo Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué became more and more immersed in his books of chivalry, and, wrapped up in the reveries of the past, he ceased to understand the present, and then even his best friends were compelled to turn away from him with dubious head-shakings.
His later writings are unenjoyable. The faults of his earlier works are repeated, only more glaringly. His knights are combinations of iron and sentimentality; they have neither flesh nor common-sense. His heroines are mere semblances of women; they are dolls, whose golden tresses daintily curl over features that are as pretty and as expressionless as flowers. Like the works of Walter Scott, so also do Fouqué’s romances of chivalry remind us of the fantastic tapestries known as gobelins, whose rich texture and brilliant colours are more pleasing to our eyes than edifying to our souls. We behold knightly pageantry, shepherds engaged in festive sports, hand to hand combats, and ancient customs, charmingly intermingled.
It is all very pretty and picturesque, but shallow, brilliant superficiality. Among the imitators of Fouqué, as among the imitators of Walter Scott, this mannerism of portraying—not the inner nature of men and things, but merely the outward garb and appearance—was carried to still greater extremes. This shallow art and frivolous style is still in vogue in Germany, as well as in England and France. Even if the portrayal no longer attempts to glorify the age of chivalry, but is directed to our modern affairs, it is still the same mannerism, which grasps not the essential points of phenomena, but merely the superficial and the accidental. In lieu of a knowledge of mankind, our recent novelists evince a profound acquaintance with clothes; they perhaps justify themselves by the old saying:
“The tailor makes the man.” How different from the older, especially the English, novelists! Richardson gives us the anatomy of the emotions. Goldsmith treats of the affections of his heroes pragmatically. The author of Tristram Shandy reveals to us the profoundest depths of the human soul; he opens, as it were, a crevice of the soul; permits us to take one glance into its abysses, into its paradise and into its filthiest recesses; then quickly lets the curtain fall over it. We have had a front view of that marvellous theatre, the soul; the arrangements of lights and the perspective have not failed in their effects, and while we imagined that we were gazing upon the infinite, our own hearts have been exalted with a sense of infinity and poetry. Fielding at once takes us behind the scenes, and there shows us all the emotions covered with deceitful rouge; the gross motives that underlie the most generous deeds; the colophony that is afterwards to blaze aloft into enthusiasm; the bass drum, while on it repose the drumsticks, which are destined to sound the furious thunder of passion.
In short, he shows us the whole interior machinery by which theatrical effects are produced; he exposes the colossal deceit by which men assume an appearance far different from the reality, and through which the truth and gladness of life are lost. But what need to cite the English as an example, since our own Goethe has given us in his Wilhelm Meister the best model of a novel?
Fouque’s romances are a legion in number; he is one of the most prolific of authors. The Magic Ring and Thiodolph the Icelander merit a specially favourable mention. His metrical dramas, which were not intended for the stage, contain great beauties. Sigurd the Serpent-slayer is a bold work, in which the ancient Scandinavian mythology is mirrored with all its gigantesque and magical characteristics. Sigurd, the chief personage of the drama, is a colossal creation. He is as strong as the rocky crags of Norway, and as fierce as the sea that beats around their base. He has as much courage as a hundred lions, and as much sense as two asses.
Herr Ludwig Uhland is the true lyric poet. He was born in Tübingen in 1787, and is now an advocate at Stuttgard. This author has written a volume of poems, two tragedies, and two treatises on Walther von der Vogelweide, and on the French troubadours. The latter are two small historical researches, and give evidence of a diligent study of the middle ages. The tragedies are entitled Louis the Bavarian, and Duke Ernest of Suabia. I have not read the former, nor is it considered the better of the two. The latter, however, contains many beauties, and pleases by its noble and exalted sentiments. It is fragrant with the sweet breath of poetry, such as we fail to find in the pieces that reap so much applause on the stage at the present day. German fidelity is the theme of the drama, and we see it here strong as an oak, defying all storms. German love blossoms, scarcely visible, in the far distance, but its violet-perfume appeals the more touchingly to our hearts.
This drama, or rather this poem, contains passages which are among the most precious pearls of our literature; notwithstanding which, the theatre-going public received, or rather rejected, the piece with indifference. I will not censure the good people of the pit too severely for that. These people have certain needs, which they demand that the poet shall gratify. The poet’s productions must not merely express the sympathies of his own heart, but must accord with the desires of the audience. The latter resembles the hungry Bedouin in the desert, who thinks he has found a sack of peas, and opens it eagerly, but, alas! they are only pearls.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
…Twenty years ago I was a lad, and what overflowing enthusiasm would I then have lavished upon Uhland! At that time I could better appreciate his merits than now; we were then more akin in modes of thought and feeling. But so much has happened since then! What then seemed to me so grand: all that chivalry and Catholicism; those cavaliers that hack and hew at each other in knightly tournaments; those gentle squires and virtuous dames of high degree; the Norseland heroes and minnesingers; the monks and nuns; ancestral tombs thrilling with prophetic powers; colourless passion, dignified by the high-sounding title of renunciation, and set to the accompaniment of tolling bells; a ceaseless whining of the Miserere; how distasteful all that has become to me since then! But once, it was, oh! so different. How often have I sat on the ruins of the old castle at Düsseldorf on the Rhine, declaiming the loveliest of all Uhland’s poems:—
A wandering shepherd, young and fair,
Beneath the royal castle strayed;
And when the princess saw him there,
Love’s longing thrilled the maid.
And then with accents sweet, she said,
“Oh! would that I might come to thee!
How white the lambkins there; how red
The flowerets on the lea.”
The youth made answer from below,
“If thou would’st but come down to me!
How rosy red thy cheeks do glow,
How white those arms I see.”
And every morn, with silent pain,
He drove his flock the castle by,
And gazed aloft, until again
His love appeared on high.
“Oh, welcome! welcome! princess sweet!”
His joyous tones rang bright and clear.
Then softly she in turn did greet,
“Kind thanks, my shepherd dear.”
Cold winter fled, spring came again,
The flowerets blossomed far and near.
The shepherd sought his love;—in vain!
No more did she appear.
“Oh, welcome! welcome! princess fair!”
His words were mournful now, and drear.
A spirit voice rang through the air,
“Farewell, my shepherd dear.”
And as I sat on the ruins of the old castle and recited this poem, at times I heard the water-fays of the Rhine mockingly, and with comic pathos, take up my refrain, and from amidst the sighing and the moaning of the river that ran below I could hear in faint tones——
“A spirit voice ring through the air,
‘Farewell, my shepherd dear.'”
But I would not let myself be disturbed by the bantering of the mermaids, even when at some of the most beautiful passages in Uhland’s poems they tittered ironically. At that time I modestly ascribed the tittering to myself, particularly when the twilight was sinking into darkness, and I raised my voice somewhat to overcome the mysterious feeling of awe with which the old castle ruins inspired me, for there was a legend that the ruins were haunted by a headless woman. At times I seemed to hear the rustling of her silken gown, and my heart beat quickly;—that was the time, and that the place, to be an enthusiast over the poems of Ludwig Uhland.
I hold the same volume again in my hands, but twenty years have flown since then, and I have seen much and learned much. I no longer believe in headless human beings, and the old ghost story has no longer power to move me. The house wherein I sit and read is situated on the Boulevard Montmartre; the fiercest turmoil of the day breaks in tumultuous billows around this spot, and loud and shrill are heard the voices of the modern epoch. First, a burst of laughter; then a heavy rumbling; next, drums beating quick time; and then, like a flash, the national guards dash by in quick march; and every one speaks French. And is this the place to read Uhland’s poems? Thrice have I again declaimed the concluding lines of the same poem, but I do not feel the keen, unspeakable pain that once thrilled me when the little princess died, and the handsome shepherd lad so pathetically calls to her, “Oh, welcome! welcome! princess fair!”
“A spirit voice rang through the air,
‘Farewell, my shepherd dear.'”
Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for this class of poems also partly arises from my experience that the most painful love is not that which fails to win possession of the object of its affections, or loses her through death. In truth, it is more painful to fold the loved one in our arms, and yet have her worry us with her contrariness, and her silly caprices, until night and day are rendered unendurable, and we are finally forced to close our heart against her who is most precious, and send the dear plague of a woman off in a post chaise—
“Farewell, oh! princess fair!”
Verily, more grievous than the loss through death is the loss through life; for instance, when the loved one in the spirit of mischievous coquetry turns away from us; when she insists upon going to a masked ball, to which no respectable person dare escort her; and when there, with jaunty dress and roguish curls, takes the arm of the first scamp that comes along, and leaves you all alone.
“Farewell, my shepherd dear!”
Perhaps Herr Uhland himself fared no better than ourselves. Perhaps his temperament has changed since then. With a few exceptions, he has produced no new poems in twenty years. I cannot believe that this beautiful poet soul was so stingily endowed by Nature, and had but one spring-time. No, I explain Uhland’s silence as the result of the contradiction between the tendencies of his muse and his political position. The elegiac poet, in whose ballads and romances the praises of the Catholic-feudal past were sung so beautifully; the Ossian of the middle ages has since then become a member of the assembly of notables in Wurtemburg, a zealous champion of popular rights, and a bold advocate of the equality of all citizens, and of freedom of opinion.
Herr Uhland has proved the absolute sincerity of his democratic and Protestant convictions by the great personal sacrifices that he has made in their behalf. In his earlier days he fairly earned the poet’s laurels, and now he has also won the bays of civic virtue. But just because he was so honest in his sympathy for the modern epoch, he could no longer sing the olden songs of the olden time with the former fervour. His Pegasus was a knightly steed that gladly trotted back to the past, but obstinately refused to budge when urged forward into modern life; and so our worthy Uhland smilingly dismounted, quietly unsaddled the unruly steed, and led it back to the stable. There it remains to this very day; like its colleague, the famous war-horse Bayard, it possesses all possible virtues, and only one fault; it is dead.
It will not have escaped keener eyes than mine, that the stately war-horse, decked with its brilliant coat of arms and proudly-waving plumes, was never rightly suited to its bourgeois rider, who, instead of boots with golden spurs, wore shoes with silk stockings; and who, instead of helm, wore the hat of a Tübingen professor. Some claim to have discovered that Herr Ludwig Uhland never was wholly in sympathy with his theme; that in his writings, the naive, rude, powerful tones of the middle ages are not reproduced with idealised fidelity, but rather they are dissolved into a sickly, sentimental melancholy. It is claimed that Uhland has taken up into his temperament the strong, coarse strains of the heroic legends and folk-songs, and boiled them down, as it were, to make them palatable to our modern public.
And in truth, when we closely observe the women in Uhland’s poems, we find that they are only beautiful shadows, embodied moonshine; milk flows in their veins, and sweet tears in their eyes; that is, tears which lack salt. If we compare Uhland’s knights with the knights in the old ballads, it seems to us as if the former were composed of suits of leaden armour, which were entirely filled with flowers, instead of flesh and bones. Hence Uhland’s knights are more pleasing to delicate nostrils than the old stalwarts, who wore heavy iron trousers, and were huge eaters, and still greater drinkers.
But that is no reason for finding fault with Herr Uhland; he did not seek to give an exact copy of the German past; perhaps he only wished to please us with a fanciful reflection, and so he mirrored a flattering picture by the crepuscular lights of his genius. This perhaps lends an especial charm to his poems, and wins for them the admiration and affection of many gentle and worthy persons. The pictures of the past cast some of their magic glamour over us, even in the feeblest conjuration.
Even the men who have warmly espoused the cause of modernism always retain a secret sympathy for the heritages of the olden time. Those ghostly voices of the past, no matter how faint their re-echo, marvellously stir our souls. Hence it is to be readily understood that the ballads and romances of our worthy Uhland not only received the most cordial applause from the patriots of 1813, from pious youths and sentimental maidens, but also from more powerful and more modern minds.